Day 78: rocking chair edition 

I heard rain plinking on my tent in the middle of the night. That combined with general exhaustion resulted in not getting up for sunrise. I got up around 630 to eat breakfast because I was too hungry to sleep any later. Several hikers and small clusters of kids were already at the cooking area when I hobbled over. I sat on a comfortable, flat rock along the low wall surrounding the bear boxes and put together the cold version of my granola/muesli breakfast. The weather seemed better than I had expected, and I started to feel guilty about my plan to zero while also feeling like it would probably be good for my body. I lingered for floater and the guys to show up, but I got tired of having to socialize. I retreated to my tent and laid on my sleeping bag feeling conflicted. Not long after crawling inside my tent, I saw floater’s legs heading towards the cook area. I decided to pause my moping to hang out with her while she ate. She and the guys were still planning to cross franconia ridge despite the chance of showers. Their persistence tapped my weakness button. I said goodbye to them at the trail intersection and went back to my tent to wallow. I texted my mom, who assured me I wasn’t a lazy poop, which helped a bit. I tried breathing to calm down and settle into my decision. As you can guess if you’ve read many other posts, this made me cry. I eventually fell asleep and woke up around 11 to the sound of my neighbor packing up her tent. I wondered what she was up to that she could afford such a late start, but I didn’t have the energy to ask. 

As I lay in my tent in broad daylight, with no apparent sign of rain in the sky, I tried to figure out how to feel differently. I decided to ask the caretaker if she had any projects around the campsite that I could help with. I walked down the hill to her platform, on which sat a large semi-permanent tent (think vendor-sized tent) with a cot and a kitchen setup off to the right underneath a separate tarp. She greeted me warmly and said she had a campsite task for me and then offered the additional job of assisting with her project for the midsummer retreat with the other AMC employees. Hut staff and caretakers get trained together at the beginning of the season and then rarely see each other depending on geography of their assignments and days off. So each summer they meet to share a personal project and spend a bit of time together. 

The caretaker showed me how to rake the drying mulch from the composting privy. After several processes that I can’t explain, the privy output consists of bark mulch that is spread on raised mesh drying beds that require rotation to help the bark dry out and break down to dirt that eventually gets used as compost. My job was to rake the material, which would facilitate drying and help push the finished “dirt” through the metal screens onto the ground below. That product is then bagged up and distributed around the woods. (I think? Can’t quite remember exactly where it ends up). It felt good to have something to focus on, especially something that required physical effort. I took my time raking the mulch, taking care to pick out the petrified trash that doesn’t break down (primary offendors: baby wipes and tampons). Shortly after I got started, the caretaker came up with her hands behind her back and asked me if I liked bananas. I said YES and she presented with me a banana and half of a KitKat. I thanked her profusely and felt so grateful for the surprise. Little did she know she’d gifted me with two things I love (although I can’t even remember the last time I ate a KitKat). 

It took about 40 minutes of raking to finish both beds. Then I went to the eating area and made a peanut butter frito wrap. The caretaker had mentioned helping with her personal project after her lunch, so I stayed up the hill and ate alone in silence. I wandered back to my tent and killed a few minutes checking the internet with my anemic phone signal. Eventually, I heard hammering coming from the caretaker’s site, so I went down the hill to see what kind of project she had in the works. She presented me with her partially built rocking chair and we discussed her plans. I promised not to sue anyone should I saw my arm off in the process of helping her. She assigned me to trim the edges from the chair supports that attach to the rocker bottom and to saw the seat out of a large piece of pressed wood. We listened to barely audible music and talked on and off as we worked. I felt kind of anxious to be in charge of my half of the conversation, but we settled into a good rhythm. We talked about her wilderness therapy experience, her wishlist for upgrading the tent/tarp setup at her platform, and her penchant for letter writing. She sends letters off with hikers to deliver to her friends at other sites, which I loved. She mentioned the possibility of sending me off with a letter for the caretaker at the Garfield Ridge campsite. I happily agreed to play pony express. 
Campers arrived periodically throughout the afternoon. The caretaker felt guilty for making man made noises that might disturb their wilderness experience, but everyone she asked responded with kindness to the racket we made. We went through a few design decisions and she showed me her plans for the backrest. The execution of making the various elements of the chair was tricky with the tools at hand, which included a hand saw, a hammer, and nails. At one point, I stood on the porch with my feet on a support piece we were trying to trim while the caretaker stood on the ground and had her arm wrapped around my calf in order to help stabilize one side of the wood while sawing the other end. We both laughed at the jumble of limbs and wood. Whenever she let go to grab the saw with two hands, she would call out “power stance!” which I found hilarious. 

We worked until a little after 4, when the steady stream of campers became the caretaker’s priority. I wandered back up to my campsite and managed to have a short phone conversation with my steady despite getting cut off several times because of an unreliable phone signal. My legs felt less achy than they had last night, and having such an enjoyable time with the caretaker made me feel better about my decision to stay put. 

Sometime in the afternoon, I got a text from Walden who had decided to head up to liberty springs instead of staying at a hostel for the night. She apparently stayed at lonesome lake hut last night to do a work for stay and got a hitch into town this morning to buy food. A little context for the white mountain hut system: it’s a reservation-based series of freestanding 4-walled structures scattered throughout the range. They’re basically lodges with fancy bunk beds, a communal eating area, a kitchen, and barebones running water and electricity. Each hut is allowed to take a limited number of thru hikers to do work for stays each day. The work involves anything from washing to dishes, to sweeping, to deep cleaning fridges. In return, the hikers sleep on the dining hall floor and have access to whatever food is leftover after the paying hut guests and the hut staff eat dinner and breakfast. These meals are part of my strategy for not resupplying, so I hope to get at least 1-2 nights in a hut. The advantages are a roof over your head in the event of bad weather (highly probable in the Whites) and free food. The downsides are having your schedule monkeyed with because thru hiker dinner isn’t until after 8p and we can’t set up our beds until lights out at 930p. The breakfast routine is similar, with our meal time around 815am and morning chores ending around 9am. I usually hike anywhere between 3-6 miles by that time. 

Walden arrived sometime after I’d eaten my dinner. I shared my plan to hike up to the top of mount liberty (.5 mile one way) to catch the sunset. To my surprise, she agreed to come even though she’d just griped about being exhausted. We made a plan to meet at the trail intersection to head up together. As I went to the spring to get water before we left, I felt a sharp stabbing sensation on the bottom of my left foot. I went back to my tent to investigate and found that a piece of skin at the fold between my fourth toe and the ball of my foot had ripped to expose an area of raw flesh about the size of a tic tac. I have no memory of doing anything specific to my foot, so it’s most likely the consequence of having to walk with wet shoes/socks and having my feet slosh around as I navigate boulders. I panicked at the prospect of having to deal with an open wound on the trail where nothing stays clean or dry for any length of time. I heard the caretaker talking to someone near the privy, which made me realize that I should ask her for extra bandaids to augment my minimal supply. She dug through her giant first aid kit and gave me a few bandaids, a couple of iodine wipes, and some medical tape. 

I sat at the trail intersection waiting for Walden and trying not to freak out about my foot. It seemed like a bad idea to do any extra walking, but I really wanted to get an unobstructed view of the sunset, so I did it anyway. The walk up was a continuation of the moderately steep rocky terrain of the previous mile before camp. My daypack with water and my puffy coat felt like carrying a bag full of air. At the ridge, we took a right and continued the slightly steeper climb to the summit of mount liberty. The views and the light were astounding. We both gawked like little kids at the parade of mountains around us. A passing cloud made for moody pictures and a brief rainbow that you can sort of see in this shot: 

Here are a few more pictures from the time we spent at the summit (including the top picture for today). 

The colors were sadly not as intense as the night before, but it was still incredible. A college kid named Andrew who is out for about a week joined us at the summit. He arrived sweating and cursing because he’d run the whole way for fear of missing the show. I felt a little bad that we were talking so much as he sat in silence to our right, but it also felt good to laugh with Walden. We all left after it was clear that the low wall of clouds on the horizon had staunched any possibility of brighter colors. 

We made the trip down to camp in twilight, both groaning occasionally because of the strain on our overworked knees. Walden made a joke about how we might see another moose because we were once again walking after 830p. I dubbed it moose o’clock, which made us both laugh. I shared my foot concerns with her. She suggested I clean the wound with hand sanitizer, which sounded effective but terrible. When I got back to my tent, I pulled out my headlamp and regretfully spritzed the wound with my spray hand sanitizer (thanks Mary Ann, who knew I’d be using it for this). Then I cleaned the area of debris as best as I could with a qtip and applied a generous blob of neosporin. I hoped the knife-like pain I’d felt on the walk down from liberty would be gone in the morning. I’m finishing this to the sound of someone rattling around in their tent on a different platform and the ping of bugs trying their best to get inside my little home. 

Miles: 0 (bonus mile up to liberty)

Total miles: 816.2 

Creature feature: pesky red squirrels and a white throated sparrow at the top of liberty mountain. 

Day 76: 800 mile moose edition 

My alarm went off at 5:15. As I stuffed my sleeping bag into the bottom of my pack, what fell on the ground? My pocket knife! I had a vague memory of throwing the knife into my tent and seeing it land in the hood of my sleeping bag, but I couldn’t remember when or why I had done it. I’d gotten superstitious about having lost it, thinking it was somehow a bad omen for the whites. Finding it made me irrationally comforted. I finished packing up and went downstairs to eat breakfast. I gave the French man gruff answers to questions I didn’t feel like answering and attempted to eat in silence. I felt anxious and uninterested in small talk, especially at 545 in the morning. Walden and floater were up and moving around, which I hadn’t expected. I left before them, fully expecting them to pass me somewhere on the climb to moosilauke. I brought my pack outside and gave cosmo a quick hello. As I put my pack on, I leaned forward to seat my hip belt properly on my waist. This makes me look at my feet every time, which is how I noticed that I wasn’t wearing my gaitors. I’d left them hanging on a clothesline upstairs in the bunk room. That would have been a sad and annoying oversight because my shoes catch debris like velcro without the gaitors and I’ve become really attached to them, as with everything in my pack. 

After one more check to make sure I hadn’t managed to forget anything else, I headed back to the trail to deal with the stream crossing. It’s a stream that requires fording, which I wasn’t looking forward to, but the detour to avoid it requires over a mile of road walking. No thank you. My shoes felt especially plush because I snagged flip phone’s brand new altra insoles from the hiker box, but I still had no desire to pound the pavement first thing in the morning. 
I walked to the trail with a view of the rocks on owls head in the distance. At the trail intersection I took a right and was met with this view: 

I took my shoes and socks off and crept across the stream in shin deep water. Thankfully the bottom consisted of mostly smooth pebbles. The water actually felt like a refreshing ice bath for my feet. I sat on the other side of the stream and dried my feet with my multi-purpose hand towel. One obstacle down, one giant mountain to go. 
I continued into the woods, catching spider webs with my face. Wet leaves brushed against my elbows and calves as I tried to breathe through the anxiety of descending Moosilauke. After about a mile, the trail dumped me onto a forest road that led me to a paved road where I walked the shoulder for about a quarter of a mile. A nice breeze accompanied the sunny blue skies making for great hiking weather. I reasoned that my slow pace would give the rocks on the other side of the mountain even longer to dry out from the bit of rain we had yesterday. 

I came to a split in the trail with a sign saying “moosilauke summit 3.7 miles.” My stomach dropped and I said aloud “okay here we go.” For whatever reason, my mind went to the scene in tri-wizard tournament where harry is in the cemetery with Voldemort and apparitions of his loved ones emerge while Harry fends off the spells from Voldemort’s wand. I reflexively started imagining comforting people from my life walking around me as the trail climbed. I felt a jumble of emotions because those people are all far away, which made me lonely, but imagining them on the trail made me feel safe and stronger. Enter the crying. But it’s hard to hike uphill and breathe while crying so it didn’t last long. 

The grade of the trail got progressively steeper, but the footing was much easier than I’d imagined. I could take manageable steps on the rocks and the rooty sections were brief. I made it to the south peak junction surprised at how fast and non-technical the climb had been. Having said that, I had no desire to walk the extra 0.1 miles to see the view from the south peak. Instead I sat down on long flat rock to my breath and eat a snack. 

The trail between the two peaks was flat and sandy at first, which was a nice break from watching every single step on the way up. The trail became rockier as it edged above tree line, and I got a full view of the northern peak and the surrounding mountains. My right knee felt achy and my IT band had the pre-flare tightness that concerned me. Definitely something to pay attention to because if it flares up for real, it will be torture on the long descents in my future. 

Seeing the peak out in front of me felt so different from the myopic view of the rocky, green tunnel I’ve been in for so many miles/days. The shapes of people walking along the trail shed some perspective on the distance between me and the summit. the wind picked up as the trees grew smaller and I had to add my wool layer. The wind at the summit made it hard to keep my balance as I walked over to the sign I’ve seen so many times on social media. I took a picture even though it was kind of backlit. 

As I stood there, floater came walking up the trail with her hat pulled low and her head down to fend off the wind. I thought for sure she would have passed me sooner, but she left about an hour after I did. We took pictures of each other with the sign. I had to turn my hat backwards as soon as I got above tree line because I was worried the wind would steal it. 

We took shelter in one of the rocky wind blocks that sit on the summit (thank you to whoever constructed those). It was significantly warmer out of the wind, but I put on my raincoat for another layer anyway because I’d gotten so sweaty on the walk up. As floater and I sat ogling all the cute day hiker dogs and eating snacks, mantis and that guy arrived, followed shortly by Walden. We all sat in the wind block and hung out for about 40 minutes. I was in no hurry to head down the mountain and the company felt easy. Here’s that guy drinking a coke that he packed out from the hostel and felt overjoyed to drink at the summit. We hikers are easy to please sometimes. 

Here are a few more views from the summit: 

Around 11, I felt like it would be wise to get moving, so I made the first moves to leave the summit. Floater immediately pulled ahead and when we got to tree line she was out of sight. I ended up leap frogging with Walden for a bit until our paces lined up and we spent the rest of the day together. The descent started out mildly enough, which is to say it involved steep rocks that could be navigated with relative ease. The trail eventually got steeper and the steps larger. My knees started to protest and the distance left to cover felt endless. Walden and I agreed that lunch at the shelter was required to be able to make it all the way down the mountain. Here’s the view from the shelter:  

A few day hikers filtered in and out as we ate. Walden cooked grits and an egg, which I felt envious of. A pair of teachers talked to us as we ate. I had hoped one of them would share her giant bag of chocolate, but instead she offered us toilet paper, which we both declined. Then we continued the long walk down the mountain. There were times when I felt like I was practically standing on my head, but the steps along the boulders were not as treacherous as they looked in the pictures halfway sent. He’s about a day ahead of me and warned me about the time and effort it took him to get down the mountain. 

We eventually reached the point where the waterfall runs adjacent to the stream. I can see how the trail would become impassable on rainy days because the waterfall is literally inches from the trail at certain points. The focus and potential for danger made for an exhausting trip down. 

At one point in the last half mile, Walden looked over a rocky ledge and gave a sardonic laugh. I said “does it get worse??” and she nodded. We had to go down the side of a boulder where the rebar handhold had pulled away from the rock. 

I think this was the same point at which I tossed my poles down and one of them went skittering over the side of the trail. Thankfully it was easy enough to reach. Walden retrieved it for me as I inched my way down the boulder. 

We finally reached a point where the trail evened out to a more gradual descent. The camping options at this point were super awkward. It was only about 230 in the afternoon, but the next shelter was about 7.5 miles away on the other side of mount wolf. I felt tired but relatively okay after the trek down moosilauke, and I didn’t want to hang out in a parking lot for hours in order to be able to stealth camp at the spots available by the streams. I sat at the picnic table in the parking area and ate a snack while I weighed my options. Walden continued on, with the loose intention of heading to the shelter. I sent a couple of triumphant texts to celebrate being done with the mountain that had given me so much angst. Then I decided to keep going. 

The trail crossed the road that runs through kinsman notch where I got another view of moosilauke. Then came a very steep climb up from the road. I ran into Walden sitting on a rock taking a break. We quickly figured out that I’m faster on the hills, so I pulled ahead as we made our way up what I had expected to be a manageable mountain. Silly me. We ran into an older couple eating snacks on a rock in the middle of the trail. They asked how we were and I told them I was daydreaming about popsicles as the sweat streamed down my face. 

The trail eventually “flattened” out to a neverending series of boulders that made for incredibly slow going and required just as much care and focus as descending moosilauke. The miles crept by as the hour grew later and later. Stealth spots were few and far between, and I didn’t really have enough water to stop short of the shelter. I also stubbornly wanted to make it all the way there so I could stay in line with floater and company. 

I felt grateful to have good company for such a long day. Walden and I talked on and off as we walked into the evening. She has a dry sense of humor that resulted in much laughing while I cursed the bogs and the boulders and diminishing daylight. During one of my obsessive mileage checks, I realized that I had crossed my 800 mile mark. I rushed through making a mediocre sign with bits of nearby fern. I felt unsatisfied with it but too exhausted to make it better. I got back in front for the short climb ahead of us. As we walked, I noticed an abundance of tiny pine cones that seemed like much better material for my mile marker, so I stopped and redid it even though I felt ridiculous. 
The light began to slant as the sun went down to our left. Walden commented on how she likes to hike at that hour because of the light. I agreed that it was beautiful, but I would much rather have been enjoying it while eating dinner at the campsite. I felt a hunger meltdown on the way, and I couldn’t picture how I would have enough energy to cook food when we got to camp after 8pm. I finally gave up on cooking and decided to eat cold food, which helped with the sense of urgency, but there would still be a host of things to do when we arrived. 

The light to our left slowly went from golden to blazing orange, and a new sense of urgency took over. Sunset. A set of powerlines were about a half mile away, and I pictured us getting there right in time to see the sun drop below the mountains. I picked up the pace as best I could, but when we got to the powerlines, we had dropped just enough in elevation for the sun to be out of sight. I felt crestfallen, but tried to appreciate the beauty in the sky that was actually visible. As I turned to look towards the eastern horizon, I noticed a pair of legs at the edge of the trail. I thought to myself, that’s a funny looking deer. The thick, scruffy fur was a golden auburn color and the proportions seemed odd. I stopped in my tracks and followed the line of the animal’s body. A little head poked up above the brush and I came face to face with a moose! A juvenile moose to be more specific, munching away on its evening salad. Walden stood a little higher than me on a rock to get a good look, and I scanned the area for signs of a mama moose. I didn’t see one, but then Walden said she saw a darker, bigger moose. As I craned my neck to try to see this other moose, the young one started to make a mewing noise. We both decided it was high time to keep moving because that sounded like a worried call, which meant a protective parent would likely follow. 

I took a quick picture of the horizon, and we booked it across the power lines back into the dark woods. As we walked we remarked on the incredible sighting. A moose! Technically two, but I didn’t actually see the second one. I could just hear it moving around in the brush. I’ve been hoping to see one since I realized I was walking past their giant piles of poo in Vermont. It was an incredible fringe benefit to hiking wayyyy to late into the day. 

Shortly before the shelter, we came to a water source where I filled my sawyer bag to get it out of the way. We finally hit the turn off as the light faded. We had to take our headlamps out to survey the campsite for tenting spots. Nearly everyone was in their tents already, and I felt inconsolably tired and hungry. We picked out two mediocre spots in front of the shelter. I hoped for a dry night as I pitched my tent with little care for anything but keeping it upright. Then I grabbed my food bag and bug spray and sat at the bear box in the center of camp and ate what I hoped amounted to a decent number of calories. It’s so hard to stop eating when I get to that point of hunger, and I didn’t have the energy to try to count the calories. I brushed my teeth without getting up. Walden tried to talk a bit, but I felt self conscious about being loud while everyone slept and I had lost all ability to be human so I had trouble engaging. Then I tossed my food bag in the bear box, peed a little away from my tent and crawled inside to push through the rest of my bed setup. I felt grimy and exhausted and amazed that we had actually made it. I’m finishing this to the sound of a loud brook to my right, and what I think is floater in her tent snoring. My legs are aching. I hope my knees can make it through the whites. No more 17 mile days for me if I can help it. 

Mile 1791.1 to mile 1807.9 (16.8) 

Total miles: 804.7 

Creature feature: the mooose! 

Day 75: staying put edition 

Felt plagued by mosquitoes as I tried to fall asleep last night, but they trailed off and weren’t as bad as I expected. Woke up around 515 and saw legs hanging over the edge of the top bunk. The guy who declined a shower (and really shouldn’t have) gathered his things and left. I woke up for good around 615. Decided not to force sleeping later so I can take advantage of the less crowded hostel to hog the internet (as you can see from the many posts I published today). 

Much of the morning was spent laying on my bunk or sitting on the floor next to the power strip editing and trying not to simultaneously freak out about moosilauke. I organized my food and weighed the bag just for curiosity’s sake. Came out to the usual 10ish pounds. I think switching to peanut butter wraps has at the very least freed up some room in the bag and possibly even weight. 

I eventually resurfaced downstairs to find a woman that I’d seen at mountain meadows lodge when I went back for my visit with megan. Her name is floater and we had lunch together out front. She laughs easily and we shared stories as we ate our respective wraps. She’s a NOBO so I asked her about the places she liked down south. We commiserated on the difficulty and futility of planning the whites. We also talked about hiking alone and the disappointment of meeting cool people only to be separated after a short time. She started with her college roommate who got hurt somewhere in VA. She’s been moving in and out of hiker clumps as well. 

A few new hikers filtered in and out of the hostel. Some just to pick up mail drops and take a long break and some in for the night. I went back upstairs to organize more stuff and push through a couple more days of editing even though my attention span had waned long before lunch. 

The weather ranged from overcast to blue skies until about 430 when it started raining. Of course. Because my intention was to hike the mile to the shelter up the road and save money on another night in the hostel. Around 5, people went to pick up their deli orders, which I abstained from mostly to lighten my food bag and partially to cut some costs. I boiled water and ate my lentil chili while watching oceans 11 in the main room with some of the other hikers. The rest of the people filtered in around 530 with their sandwiches and French fries. I consoled myself by eating a small bag of doritos and an ice cream sandwich, which made me feel a little sick. The emotional rollercoaster of yesterday continues today. I feel cagey and anxious, but also tired and uninterested in hiking in the rain. 

As my food cooked, I called the hostel I’m thinking of staying at towards the end of the whites. I wanted to know how people make reservations when cell service is so dicey and there’s no way to tell when you will be where because of all the unpredictable variables. The woman from the hostel was helpful and said to try calling from a mountaintop when I’m about 2 days away. When she asked my trail name, I said “checklist” and she laughed. “well of course it is,” she replied. I laughed as she poked fun at me and told her I’d written everything she said down. Like a nerd. 

After stalling and getting validation from my steady, the answer is: I’m staying here for the night because I have good company and that’s part of what I need right now. I watched my first movie in two months and saw the sunset while I brushed my teeth. 

Now it’s time for sleep so I can hang out with a 4000 foot mountain tomorrow. 

Miles: 0

Total miles: 787.9 

Creature feature: just a bunch of hikers today. 

Day 74: minor breakdown edition

Had a mediocre night of sleep because I couldn’t regulate my temperature very well. I woke up sweating and slimy but wary of opening my sleeping bag for fear of mosquitoes even though they’d been  surprisingly absent the night before. I finally couldn’t take it so i unzipped my bag and laid both of my legs out. But I’d been sweating so much that I was of course cold because my clothes were wet. Back-and-forth and back-and-forth. 

I heard people stirring around 515 and decided to get up as well. I want to get to the hostel at a decent time in case they’re full because the weather is supposed to be crappy tomorrow. I’m guessing I will catch halfway there because it’s a logical place for him to stop, but we will see if I know him well enough. My legs were very sore and throbbing when I went to sleep but they’re less sore this morning. I gave my feet and calves a massage before I got up to grab my shorts from their hook. Then I made the stupid trudge up to the privy and took care of some things. Grabbed my food bag, which I’m always amazed is still there, and gave pretzel her snacks that she had forgotten to put her own bag before banging it last night. She and influx made fun of me during breakfast in a good-natured way, as far as I can tell. Ah the comforts of being mocked. 

Our morning started with bouldering and climbing up Mt Cube to get to a view of smarts (top picture) where I stood at 3 PM yesterday. It felt good to see the physical progress from one mountain to the next. Then came a painful and extended downhill to get off the mountain. My pace slowed to a literal crawl, which is frustrating, but that’s as fast as I can go especially when my feet and knees are kind of sore and the footing is treacherous between the roots, the silt, and the sometimes slippery boulders. It eventually flattened out a bit and became more reasonable. I got a text from Lewis & Clark mid morning that said they had some things come up and have gotten off trail as of yesterday. I’m dying to ask what came up, but I assume if she had been willing to share, she would have done it upfront.

At some point on the descent, I put on my music and I could tell instantly that my attention was off of the pain in my body and how many miles I had left to go. I don’t want to drown out the messages I’m getting from my body, but it’s nice to take advantage of the experience of time moving quickly. I do regret that I can’t hear quite as many of the noises around me, but for now I’m going to keep doing it.

I took a break at a beautiful little stream that had a nice wading pool that I didn’t take advantage of. I decided to get water at the next stream because I didn’t really need it yet and I could save myself a half mile of  carrying it. The next stream was thankfully just as clear, but it didn’t have as many good places to sit, so I’m glad I took a break at the other one. I filled my two bottles and moved on. There was a relieving bit of an uphill, which was nice for my Achilles tendon’s to get a break from going down. 

After a little while I came to this stream crossing that I assume has been made much worse by recent storms. About 15 yards to my left was a much more reasonable crossing. A few minutes after that, I came to the road crossing for 25A, not to be confused with route 25, which is like 10 miles down the trail. 

There was some serious water damage to the road. Then came a flatter, less rocky section. The dirt in New Hampshire is very confusing. There are times when I’m walking on gray silt. Am I at the beach? Am I on a mountain? I just can’t tell.

It was was so humid and the mosquitoes were out in full force. I could feel them bounce off my legs whenever I stopped for more than 10 seconds. My super toxic stuff keeps them at bay for the most part, but they always seem to find some little patch that I’ve managed to miss though, like the skin between my fingers or through my shirt such as the itchy spot I now have next to my belly button. I guess it’s better to be itchy from a bug bite than chafing, but come on. Enough with the biting me THROUGH MY SHIRT. 

The trail came to a road crossing next to camp moosilauke. I turned right and walked down the road a few hundred yards past high water warnings from the other day’s storms. A yellow warbler of some sort crossed the road there as a big dump truck drove by. The trail then turned left back into the woods into a very soggy aggravating little patch to cross. The roots and mud continued, and I wondered if this was the supposed to the “easy walking” I was told to expect. It felt pretty hard to me, and I started to get frustrated by my experience. How do I find this so difficult when other people say it’s easy? That thought vexed me all afternoon and contributed to what felt like an exhausting and shitty day. At some point when I had a weak signal, I got a text from halfway saying he had just finished the descent from moosilauke and was at a hotel for the night. I felt crestfallen that he was still ahead and would not be at the hikers welcome hostel later. I had thoughts of quitting on and off over the next few hours. The frustration became even more entrenched as I passed 6 more people who all told me I had good miles coming up. I guess if you’re not scrambling across a boulder the hiking is considered easy in New Hampshire? I don’t know, but I felt so weak and cranky. 

Somewhere near ore hill campsite, I ran into a SOBO named Moose who looks like a linebacker with wire rimmed glasses and a camouflage boonie hat. He told me that the omelet guy isn’t there because he’s on a trip to Pennsylvania or something. I had only heard about the omelet guy yesterday, so my hopes were not exactly dashed, but I’m still sad to miss another trail establishment. Here’s the setup for the infamous omelet guy who apparently cooks food for hikers as they pass through: 

I asked moose what he regretted or would have done differently about the whites and he said he would have slowed down. Either to catch better weather or to just enjoy the views more. He rushed through to get the miles out of he way. After moose and I parted ways, I had to pick around several giant mud pits. My foot slipped the edge of one and I submerged my entire shoe in muddy water. Needless to say there was some yelling.

The trail was a dim, muddy shit hole for awhile. Then it opened up to a bright pine forest. I thought about stopping for lunch there because there was light and breathing room, but it was early and I didn’t want to eat at the bottom of the climb. I kept going through slightly less muddy but root filled annoying stuff until I got to a place where there was a decent rock a couple yards off the trail. I sat and made my wrap and hoped the periodic crashing that I heard behind me was squirrels and not a bear approaching. I saw two southbound people that I happened to see yesterday on top of smarts mountain. They stopped to talk to me for a minute. I told them what hike I was doing and they told me they’re section hikers shuttling themselves and hiking between roads. They’re likely to just backpack through the white because the road access is far more limited and time-consuming. They, too, said I had some nice walking ahead. They moved on and I slowly packed up to begin hiking again. 

As I hiked, I wondered if I would see influx and pretzel again or if they would head on to the shelter before I get to the hostel. The trail was actually nice for about 20 minutes and then turned into a mud bog again. There was a long descent past a pond that I did not bother walking down a side trail to see. The trail was rocky and horrible and my knees were getting increasingly achy, which made me anxious for the incredibly steep descent from Moosilauke that everyone keeps talking about. I could not wait for my day to end. I had little to no signal all day and felt lonely and cranky. 
I finally made it to the route 25 road crossing around 430. The cooler of trail magic that I had been told about by a SOBO named grandpa was indeed there. I grabbed a Gatorade and sat on the cooler eating cinnamon graham crackers. Then I made the .3 mile road walk down to the hostel. Influx and pretzel were organizing their food out front at a picnic table. It felt good to see them. They’re staying the night to see how the weather is tomorrow. We shared laundry and hung out a bit. First, I sat and bitched about the trail, which no one else seemed bothered by. Influx laughed and said he would really like to see me go off on a rant. 
Hikers welcome hostel is a modest but cool operation. The plumbing is all outdoors, with a shower stall, a washing machine and communal sink, and a toilet stall out behind the main building. There’s also a covered picnic table area and a second bunkhouse that is much newer and nicer than the main building. I didn’t have the energy to look around so I took a bottom bunk in the main building. Then I proceeded to sit like a zombie outside socializing and being generally exhausted. I eventually had a very satisfying shower and put on this sweet loaner shirt: 

The rest of the night is kind of a blur. I didn’t do much writing (I’m finishing this the next day as people watch a movie downstairs). My anxiety about the whites vacillates between manageable and crippling. But people do it. All the time. Now I should stop staring at this idiot box and figure it whether I’m going to walk into the woods to save $25 or if I’m going to stay here for the night because it just started raining. This will probably be the last blog for awhile. For real this time. 
Mile 1776.3 to mile 1791.1 (14.8)
Total miles: 787.9 
Creature feature: nothing but me and my cranky self. 

Day 73: up with some more up edition 

Slept pretty well last night and woke up to the sound of my alarm at 4:45. I nearly turned over and went back to sleep, but the prospect of sunrise was too irresistible. I also figured I could get an early start just in case I wanted to do the longer option for today. I went down to the shelter, put my feet up against the outside wall and watched the beginning of a mediocre sunrise while laying down. I decided to score some not so private time at the privy before everyone woke up. I grabbed my food bag while I was down there and came back up to find influx (his name is actually 2 words but it’s confusing so I’m leaving it as one) sitting in the shelter about to eat his breakfast. We talked and shared long gaps of silence while we ate. He laughed when I said that I have an ancillary food bag for the first two days after resupply because my bag is too full to hold my cookware. 

The mansplainer (who also wears a kilt, by the way) came over after packing up his hammock and started cooking his breakfast. He asked me annoying questions while I tried to eat. Something about his tone of voice rubs me the wrong way and he has an overbearing delivery. I gave him minimal responses that were a bit terse in content but not necessarily in tone unless you know me well. Then I retreated to my tent to change my shorts and pack up my gear. 

I was ready around the same time as influx and pretzel. I asked pretzel to say hi to halfway if she runs into him. I’m not sure I can make their miles today because they intend to go a “short” 17.7 to a shelter called the hexacube. I will reassess when I get to the 12.4 miles stopping option on top of smarts mountain. As I left camp, who did I see standing together but Lewis and Clark! I had been confused and disappointed when i didn’t see them last night, but they were in their tents the whole time (they sleep in separate tents which they’ve joked is why they can hike together). I had accidentally interrupted their praying, so I waited until they were done. When they turned to leave, Lewis was surprised and happy to see me. She talked a mile a minute as we walked together for the next 90 minutes. Then Clark needed water and I didn’t want to stop, so I kept walking. Our paces are similar, but I figured it would be nice to have a social break and turn on music to help push through the dull terrain. Not much to see this morning. Although at a road crossing, I did see a sign that said “bears with tracking collars, don’t shoot them.” That doesn’t bode well on so many levels. Shortly after the sign, the trail went through a flat pine area then began the climb. The neverending climb. I had hoped to take a break at the top with a view, but I couldn’t wait. I stopped at a decent rock to rest my feet and stuff my face. About 30 minutes later, I got to an actual viewpoint and had another snack with these mountains in the distance. 

I had a serious case of faux bottomless hunger from not getting enough sleep. I felt worried about how hard the mountain was and anxious about what’s to come in the whites. Lewis was talking about her white mountain anxiety too. There’s a buzz in camps and on the trail because we’re getting close. People are constantly asking advice and trying to gather information about how to get through them. Myself included. 

After another viewpoint, there was a manageable climb down from the ledges. I zoned out and picked my way down the sporadically rocky hillside. I happened to look up at one point and saw a tiny colored figure about waist high. First I thought it was a deer. Then I thought it might be a wildcat (the innkeeper at mountain meadows mentioned a small resurgence in large cat population in NH). Then I realized it was just a big dopey dog who was more scared of me than I was of it. It gave me a wide circle, and I gave a quick hello to its owner. 

I took a short break at the bottom of the hill, which is the intersection that used to be where you could visit the ice cream man. Otherwise known as a trail angel named bill ackerly, but he passed away last year. I felt sluggish today and the humidity did not help. 

After my break, I went through a buggy, rocky section that tested my will. I eventually came to the road crossing before  the climb to Lambert ridge. There was a sign at the trailhead warning of unreliable water sources on smarts mountain, but I didn’t feel like carrying extra water up the climb. I hadn’t committed to staying up there, and there had been so much rain a few days ago that I took my chances. About a half mile into the slog from the road, I heard leaves rustling off to my left. I looked up expecting to see a squirrel, and instead was met with a foraging bear cub. My brain said “oh what cute little bear” and then my brain said “oh FUCK. BEAR.” I actually started saying fuck,fuck,fuck under my breath as I scanned the forest for the mother of the cub. No sign of her as I hightailed it as quickly as I could up the steep hill. I kind of wish I had stood still long enough to get a picture, but fear kicked in before I thought of it. As I cursed and walked faster, the cub heard me and ran down the hillside. 

I hiked faster for about 10 minutes and then had to slow down because it was just too hot and steep to keep up the pace. After about 20 minutes, I came to lambert ridge where I decided to stop for lunch even though it seemed uncomfortably close to the bear sighting. I camped out at a rock facing this view and made my wrap. 

Little blueberry bushes with berries grew in between the rocks at my feet. I laughed and thought about how the cub would probably like these guys as midafternoon snack. 

Then I lay with my feet up on my pack trying to figure out whether I needed to stay in two places or one to make it through the whites. I feel so anxious about how to navigate the logistics of it and whether I will physically be able to manage it. I’m also still torn between going long or medium today. A SOBO came down to the ledge as I lay on the ground. He was a meek young guy who said that if he can hike the whites, I can do it. When I asked him what made him say that, he said that I had more miles and thus self assuredness under my belt. If only. Although his comment did resonate a little bit. He moved on and I decided to get back to it as well. 

The next patch of trail consisted of a lot of boulders. I nearly fell on this one because I was trying to step gingerly and tripped. I said aloud to myself “better sore feet than a broken face.” 

I was on the ridge (saddle?) walk over to smarts mountain when it started to rain, and I wondered why I was heading to the top of a mountain in the rain yet again. Thankfully it was just a passing drizzle and not a full on storm. The terrain was manageable for awhile and then it got steep. 

And then it got steeper and rockier (that’s rebar in the boulders): 

I passed a couple of section hikers on their way down and asked about the terrain on the other side of mountain. I couldn’t keep going if it involved going down something as steep as this. The guy said it was much a more gradual descent with actual trail. I calculated that into my plans and kept going. Around every corner I hoped to see the trail flatten out, but it just kept winding up and out of sight. After another 40 minutes, I finally got the fire tower. I went straight up so I wouldn’t have to walk down the stairs with post-break cold legs. The views were incredible (top picture, along with this): 

I strongly considered staying on top of the mountain to get another 360 degree sunrise and sunset, but I also didn’t feel like another night of staying up late and getting up early. I went down to the fire wardens cabin, which is now an AT shelter, and sat on the porch eating a snack trying to decide what to do. I felt claustrophobic and creeped out for some reason. It probably would have changed with the arrival of Lewis and Clark arrived, but I felt haunted. I put my feet up and considered my options. I kind of wanted to catch up with halfway and get to the hostel tomorrow (Friday) for a whole night of charging my phone and uploading blog stuff instead of just cramming it into a few hours in the middle of saturday. With that in mind, I decided to push on even though I felt wary about overdoing it. 

I questioned my choice immediately, but I kept going anyway. The ridge was a muddy mess. Then came a long two hour trip down the mountain. I tried to zone out and tune into my banjo music. It very clearly helps with my pace because whenever I stopped playing it to check out the noises around me, my body felt heavier and I noticeably slowed down. I finally got to a road crossing around 530 and took a short break to eat more and rest my feet. They’re sore, but not terrible or nervy. My right achilles was also getting pretty cranky so I stretched and massaged both of my calves. Then came another steep climb that was shorter, but still intense, with this view as the reward: 

Then even more climbing until it dropped down to a small stream where I got lightbeer-colored water. I met another SOBO going by the name of scout. He told me I would have some great walking in about 6 miles. That felt like a relief. The last .4 to the shelter was a rooty mess. Then came a steep .3 mile hike just to get to the shelter. 

As I walked up, pretzel called out, “I knew you would choose us,” which made me laugh. There were two other guys there that I hadn’t met, one of whom I found incredibly obnoxious and gave a wide circle to. Cosmo was also there. We caught up for a minute while I dropped my pack and felt like a sweaty blubbering mess on the inside. The tenting options were terrible so I decided to risk it and sleep in the shelter. I also didn’t really have the energy to set up my tent. I immediately pulled out my sleeping pad and blew it up before I lost all resolve. Then I pulled out my cookware and boiled water for food. It was late and I had hiked too far. 
As I ate, a group of SOBOs arrived and immediately began talking about how many miles they’d hiked and how many big days we could do in the whites and we could do the 100 mile wilderness  and blah blah blah. Those conversations are so tedious and make me so annoyed with the people and with my body. Influx has picked up on my disdain for the topic and was laughing both with and at me after he made a joke about how long he’d been at the shelter. He finished today’s hike at 3p. A full 4 HOURS faster than me. I’m envious of how much less time he’s spending on his feet. But I’m stuck with this body, so I should just let it go (forgive the repetition of the topic, it might be awhile before I get to actually letting it go). Now I’m finishing this to the sound of pretzel lightly snoring and some dude over by the fire pit jabbering on about something. 
Mile 1758.6 to mile 1776.3 (17.7) 
Total miles: 773.1 
Creature feature: the bear cub and a snake that slithered off the boards and into the marshy wildflowers as I rounded a beaver pond sometime in the middle of the day 

Day 35: topsy turvy edition 

I woke up so many times last night. Pretty sure I got about 5 hours of sleep with all the tossing and turning and then waking up naturally at 5am. I heard noises in the kitchen even at that hour. I later found out that the rattling about was our host, georgio, cooking us breakfast. I finally gave up on sleeping around 545 because I could hear buzzcut fidgeting, and I was starting to get hungry. I hobbled downstairs and georgio said oh the little church mice are stirring. He insisted I go back to bed, but I told him it was too late. I went down into his basement and folded our laundry. Then I creaked back upstairs with my tight Achilles’ tendons. They’re super unhappy first and last thing in the day. I can’t wait to soak my feet/ankles in epsom salt and hot water. Why does that feel so good?? Halfway and I were wondering about that way back at the holly inn. 
By 630, everyone was downstairs, but Giorgio made no moves towards serving food. I have to eat pretty soon after waking, and by that point I’d been up for nearly 90 minutes. I came so close to asking him when we were going to eat, but it felt rude. Instead, I went upstairs and busied myself by putting my sleeping gear away. Then I couldn’t take it anymore, and I busted into my peanut butter and ate it with Fritos. It’s a combination I’ve seen buzzcut eat, and it’s surprisingly good. The snack sort of helped, but it also just made me want real food.

 I went back down stairs and pretended to be involved in the conversation while dying to say, can we eat NOW. Finally, JD slid forward on the edge of the couch and Giorgio took the cue. Then he made us all eggs to go with her bratwurst and wheatberries. The food was incredible, and he wouldn’t let us help with any of the dishes. Then we gathered ourselves and piled into the car with the dog frantically bouncing from one side of the backseat to the other between buzzcut and me.

Giorgio of course refused our offers to pay for his gas and the groceries that he bought expressly to make us breakfast. We said goodbye to him at Arden Valley Road, and he went off into the woods with his dog. I tried to walk quickly to warm up in the cold drizzle, but the rocks were slick, and I felt like my feet were cinderblocks. I had to slow down for fear of tripping or stepping in a way that would hurt my cranky ankle. The woods in that part of Harriman felt expansive. There were mammoth boulders amongst large, spread out trees with fern ground cover. I tried to look around me, but I was just too cold. I considered stopping to put on another layer, but I knew that within the half hour, I would probably be comfortable enough. I’d rather have a dry mid layer for later than start sweating in a little while and have to stop all over again for a wardrobe change. It feels funny to call my collection of clothes a “wardrobe.” I’ve worn the same 2 shirts for the last 35 days with the variety of either having my Rapha wool shirt or my rain coat as a top layer. When I get to camp and I’m done setting up whatever sleep system is going in place, things start to get crazy. That’s when I put on my puffy coat. Living at the crusty fringes of fashion. 
Somehow JD fell behind, which left buzzcut and me walking in silence for the first hour. As we passed through a boggy area with several little stream crossings that were tricky in the rain, buzzcut fell back because she needed to check on a toe situation. I decided not to wait because something about her energy seemed like she wanted to be alone, and I knew I would get cold if I just stood around. I spent the better part of the next hour walking around taking pictures of the misty woods and feeling happy that my body was not as sore as I expected. I, too, had a toe situation that I should have checked out, but I’m out of the proper tape, so I couldn’t do much about it anyway. The trail took us up towards more exposed rocks and low lying bushes. Rain fell steadily for the entire morning. 

Around 1130, I made it to William brien Shelter, which thankfully was directly on the trail. I decided to take the opportunity to have a roof while prepping my lunch wrap. I saw a man named clean sweep that I met the day before and treebeard. I have been wondering how Treebeard fared yesterday with the intense elevation changes and his achy knee. As it turns out, he stopped at fingerboard shelter, a.k.a. bearville, because he was too tired to move on. The pesky bear stole his food bag! Along with four others. Treebeard said that he salvaged some of the food the bear deemed uninteresting, and when he stood on the shelter porch he could see the bear watching him from about 20 yards away. 
As I sat there listening to treebeard’s crazy story, I made a peanut butter, frito and honey wrap that I decided to just eat right then instead of waiting until later down the trail. JD and buzzcut arrived looking soggy and haggard. Buzzcut stepped into the shelter and sat down on one of the bunks. I happened to look back at her and noticed that her eyes looked wet with something more than just rainfall. I asked her if she wanted to talk about it fully expecting to be brushed off. But she nodded yes, so I sat on the bunk with her, and she said, I’m gonna go home. She said she misses her kids, and listening to Georgio talk about being estranged from his family made her realize that the sacrifice of being on the trail might be too great. She couldn’t come up with convincing answers (for herself) as to why she should stay. I validated the idea of letting herself take a break and going home. At that point, other people were listening in and they echoed the opinion that if she wanted to go home it would be OK. Then we set about trying to figure out where she could get to the nearest road and actually have cell phone signal to call a cab (seven lakes road was closest but no signal). I pulled up the map that I already have on my phone for Harriman and realized that the point at which the trail crosses the Palisades Parkway is less than a quarter of a mile from the visitor center. I called to make sure they were open, and then told buzzcut that would be the best place for her to stay warm and find resources. In that moment, I felt cold and sad and so uninterested in camping in the rain alone, so I called stony point center to see if they had any open rooms for the night. I can handle rain and I can handle cold, but I can’t handle both of them at the same time on a day that also happens to be the day a good to trail friend leaves. I opened the invitation to share a room with JD and prepared, and told him to think about it over the next few miles. My new plan was to walk to the bear mountain bridge and get picked up by the center’s staff. This would involve another 9 miles of walking. JD seemed interested, but skeptical as to whether he could get that far. Treebeard expressed similar sentiments and said he needed to stop at the visitor center to use the facilities because he didn’t feel like pooping in the rainy woods. 
So we set off to get buzzcut to the road and ourselves north towards a warm, dry room. First things first, climbing up this pile of rocks. 
Then the trail leveled out into more of the same terrain with mild ups and downs. We had a short steep climb up to this point for a view of the neighboring ridges and swift mine lake. Then the trail headed back down into the woods and eventually popped us out onto the shoulder of the palisades parkway, which is a very busy highway. I felt like a turtle as I tried my best to run across the road between cars going 50-60 miles an hour. Okay it’s New York, they were probably creeping on 70mph. We made it across the northbound lanes and crossed the wooded median to the southbound side. I gave buzzcut a quick hug and watched her walk up the shoulder towards the visitor center. it was hard to see her go, but people have to make the choices that are right for them. I didn’t have a lot of time or space to really let her absence sink in because I needed to keep moving for warmth. Once we crossed the southbound lanes, JD and I spread out to our own paces. 

I caught up with him while he was chatting with the couple that are out hiking with their three month old baby. I get slow down by taking pictures, and JD gets slow down by talking to everyone he comes across.

After is a goodbye to the cutest little family ever, we made the long, lung burning climb up what I thought was bear mountain, but actually turns out to be the mountain before bear mountain (need to look that up). As we started to climb, I looked at the elevation chart and laughed. Here’s a screenshot of what it looked like (I’m the little blue dot).

It actually wasn’t as bad as I expected, and there were several view points once we got higher up the mountain. It started raining again as we enter a flat section, so I had to take out my raincoat, which I had taken off for the climb. so much adjusting at any given moment. Here are a few pictures from the walk along the ridge and back down to the road. 

Then came the climb up what was actually bear mountain, which involved a butt ton of stone steps. In some ways, stone steps are great because they cut down on the stabilizing required on uneven rocks and roots. However, they are incredibly hard on the balls of my feet and make my legs ache because there’s no give when you land. 

Around 3p Treebeard texted to say that he was waiting at the bear mountain inn for us. He decided to cut his day short and give himself a break. With that in mind, I texted our shuttle driver to move the pick up location from the bridge to the end, which cut a mile from our day. At that point, I had no qualms about cutting it a little short. The exposed rock and the steps were turning my feet into minced pancakes. 

I told everyone I knew to avoid bear mountain on a weekend, and had accidentally arrived there on a major holiday. But the weather saved me from having to elbow check people and feel like a smelly weirdo. When we finally got to the bear mountain overlook, it was absolutely deserted. I couldn’t believe it. The last time I was here, the place was crawling with tourists and weekenders. JD and I stopped at the Overlook to catch a wider view of the cloud covered mountains we had been seeing all morning, and then kept moving down the other side of the mountain. I hiked that section of the AT last October with a group of friends I know from banjo Camp and my former partner. I can remember how my friends got really excited about the idea of leaving something there for me to find on my hike. They didn’t do it for logistical reasons, but the memory made me feel like I had good company as I winced my way down the never ending set of stone steps that was only mildly broke up by flat stretches of crushed gravel. 

JD and I made it to our date with the shuttle driver right on time. We walked to the front of the inn as the van pulled up. A talkative man named Rick said, are you jay? To jd because he had thought he had spoke to a man earlier via text and in the 20 second phone call we had about timing. I knew that he thought he was speaking to a man when he spelled out the name Jay in a text, but I didn’t correct him because I enjoy the gender ambiguity and the surprise when people realize that they’ve been speaking to someone who is not a man. I felt a little bad for not telling him, but also kind of good about causing confusion and indirectly pointing out the assumptions that we all make about gender and the way it can inform our conversations. I’m sure there’s a more eloquent way to put that, but writing this at a late hour after another long day doesn’t really lend itself to articulation.

We made it to stony point center around six and went through a very confusing check-in process that was too tedious to describe. It’s apparently a multi faith activism retreat center, which i did not realize when I booked it standing in the rain st the top of a mountain. By the time we got our stuff into the room, I was nearing a food meltdown. Civility and patience were quickly going out the window, so I set up my pot to boil water and shoved Fritos in my face until I felt slightly more sane. After about 15 minutes my rice was ready. I sat in silence and ate it while staring at the wall. Eventually, I felt human enough to carry on a conversation and take a shower. A gentleman named. Chainsaw, whom I have mentioned in passing as a late arriving high energy character, agreed to pick up a few items for me when he got ferried to the grocery store. I have an awkward amount of food to get me through the next two days, but the idea of walking around a grocery store made me want to cry. The only downside to getting the favor is that he forgot to buy Fritos. I guess I will rummage through the bear mountain vending machines tomorrow before we set out. 

I’m writing this in a large common room with a pretty decent color scheme given the antiquated look of the exterior, a wood-burning fireplace,and a crucifix evoking tablecloth on the glass topped table to my right. Time to go crawl into my sleeping bag on the queenish (but actually more like a double) that I’m sharing with JD who is also using his sleeping bag. 
Mile 1389.4 to mile 1402.9 (13.5) 

Total miles: 399.7
Creature feature: saw several cute little frogs today and two giant turkeys across the road when we got dropped off at our starting point. Not much happening in the way of interesting birds. No snakes today, but a couple of lizards! one with a blue tail. 

Day 24: rock climbing edition 

I woke up around 5am this morning. No alarm. Just old fashioned anxiety. Every time I rolled over in the night, I could feel myself checking for pain. As I changed into my hiking shorts, I didn’t notice any twinges, which is already a big difference from when I originally broke my tailbone last January. It’s going to be hot today, so I went to for timeliness over etiquette in terms of making noise in camp. Sound carries really well and all of our gear is noisy, so there’s no way to silently move around. Even the leaves are crunchy and give away each movement. I walked down the little hill next to our site to get our food bags and felt hopeful at the lack of sharp pain. Just a dull ache. I put my breakfast together standing up and attempted to bend over as little as possible. This is one of the movements that still bothers me at times even a year later. You’d be amazed at how many camping tasks involve bending over. 
Halfway emerged from his tent around 530. We had a silent breakfast together, and then we packed up as the rest of the group emerged. I had to walk back up the hill to the spring to fill all of my water vessels for the 17 mile carry we had planned for the day. I took little steps and focused on landing gently. A few twinges. After getting water, and a few new mosquito bites, I headed back down to camp and told myself to stop looking for pain. This is so cheesy, but I said “you’re okay” all the way down the hill along with “it’s just a bruise.” I did this in an attempt to stop myself from unconsciously tightening all the muscles in my lower back and my glutes. 

Halfway and I left camp at 725. My fear of injury returned as soon as I put on my bag. The bag sits at the very top of my tailbone, and I knew immediately that it wasn’t going to work at that height. I tightened my shoulder straps To lift the bag off my waist as much as I could. Then I took my stress ball self down the hill to cross the bridge over the Lehigh river. 

Halfway and I gaped at the mountain that we were about to climb looming over us. The elevation gain for Lehigh gap is something crazy in a small amount of distance. I’m not good at remembering or caring about those numbers. But I can say that the for first third of the climb, I felt like my Achilles’ tendons might snap in half because my feet were hitting the ground at such a steep angle. 

Once we got past this point, the terrain went from scrabbley tree covered path to exposed rock. That’s when things got interesting. The actual climb was that difficult, but the sheer height made it feel treacherous. A misstep or losing your balance could really end badly. I was worried that having to lean over and take large boulder hoping steps would send shooting pain through my tailbone, but it never happened. After several pain free maneuvers, I forgot to be anxious about it, and focused on the task at hand. Halfway caught a picture of me near the top of the scramble:

On the other side of the point, we had to scramble over rocks that looked as if they’d been shaken from a bag in the sky. Plenty of opportunities for twisted ankles and bruised feet, but I made it out unscathed with the exception of a small goose egg from hitting my shin against a boulder. 

After the intense climb and the transition across the point (I don’t know what else to call it because it wasn’t the summit), the trail led us through a gradual rocky climb. As I went up the rocky ascent, I cried from the relief of not being in pain and the adrenaline of scaling the gap. The trail eventually transitioned to a bucolic walk along the side of the mountain with views overlooking dismal factories. When I got to the quasi meadow walk I let myself cry a bit and then I laid down in the middle of the trail to take a break. I also laid down on a giant slab of rock a little while later to catch a few more minutes off of my feet. 

Then we were led through several exposed rocky sections, some of which sounded as if we were walking across broken plates. A German fellow I met a few days ago named hippo passed me during the noisy section and said “it’s a nice trail, yah?” But I couldn’t tell if he was serious. I followed him until he led us astray down the power line road which ran parallel to the trail. We realized the mistake pretty quickly, and backtracked. Oh the sadness of backtracking on a supposed 17 mile day. 

There were a lot of people out today. Probably at least a dozen hikers. I finally met buzzcut, whom halfway knows and has been hoping to run into. She seemed to be loosely hiking with two other gentlemen named cujo and JD. Here they all are at a lunch break (along with a tired and sore halfway) later in the day. 

There was a tedious mile long section of rock hopping after the power lines. Then we popped out into a gravel parking lot near a road crossing. I saw halfway laying on the ground and made a bee line for the patch of gravel next to him. 

It felt surprisingly cool and the texture of the rocks was almost like acupressure. Two of the hikers next to me lit cigarettes, which was the final motivator to get moving. Halfway and I started off again. The remainder of the group was about a mile behind us. Angel was apparently not doing well with the heat and was starting to make plans to get off trail until the temperatures break later in the week. 

The next section is a bit of a blur. It was rocky, and I had to continually let hikers go in front of me because I was being even choosier about my foot placement than usual. I was trying to avoid long jarring steps for the benefit of both my tailbone and my aching feet. Halfway and I had an in depth confab during our lunch break at a shady campsite alongside the trail. He felt sore and skeptical about making it 9.5 more miles to the intended shelter. We decided to call John stempa, who appears in AWOLs trail guide as someone who will let you sleep at his house, shower, and shuttle you to/from the trail and into kunkletown. This shaved 3.5 miles off of our intended 17 miles and still left room for me to get to Delaware water gap in time for my mail pickup Saturday morning. Chrissy and company were to call as well on their own timeline because they got picked up by trail angel don and taken out to lunch. I felt sad about missing the magic, but I enjoyed myquiet  time with Halfway and myself, and I know a social lunch with diner food would have been a total energy drain. 
With our destination decided, halfway and I set out to cover 5.8 more miles. There was definitely a different determination in my step with the prospect of a shower, electricity, and water I wouldn’t have to filter. I sped up to the point where I had to remind myself that 6 miles is still 3 hours of walking, and I needed to pace myself. The next 2.5 hours all run together. There were a few forgiving sections, and some unfortunately rocky sections. I took a tumble at one point when my heel caught some shit kicker rock at just the right angle. Banged my knee, but no damage done and I had a good laugh about it because Halfway had fallen in nearly the same spot. I know that because I was close enough to hear the clatter and the cursing. 

John picked us up at smith mountain gap road. He started talking the second we were within earshot, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t stop for more than a minute the whole time he was around. He brought his giant chocolate Doberman along for the ride, which of course made me happy. As did this little guy who hangs out at the kunkletown pub where halfway, hippo, and I had dinner with John. 

Hippo arrived about an hour after we did, unplanned and in a mysterious fashion. Two of john’s neighbors saw hippo walking along the roadside and offered to give him a ride to John’s house, but they were going the wrong way and wouldn’t listen to hippo. He thinks they might have been drunk. 

At any rate, I got a good shower (complete with towel), a burger at the pub, ice cream AND BANANAS at the general store across the street and a few backup bars to help make my food last until Saturday. Chrissy and company were done around 645 and John left our dinner to go get them from the trail. Halfway, hippo and I left to wind down rather than stay for the other half of the group to eat. The garage where we had the option to sleep was littered with millipedes. There was also a wolf spider on the wall when we first got there. So I’m writing this from the comfort of my tent, which is set up in john’s backyard. I can hear what I think is a great horned owls low hoot in the distance and the patter of bugs skittering across the surface of my tent. I’m relieved that my tailbone seems okay enough to continue, and I’m really excited to be out of PA soon! 
Mile 1257.1 to mile 1270.0 (12.9) 

Total miles: 266.8
Creature feature: I nearly put my trekking pole down on a snake today. It had tan stripes, but it wasn’t a rattler. It reared up and slithered away after I made a sharp inhale after nearly touching it. I also saw a scarlet tanager! Which I’ve been hiking to see for like two weeks. They’re incredible. So vibrant with intense red bodies and black wings. Halfway saw a timber rattler, but I sadly have not seen a rattlesnake yet.